Are the New Luxury Experiences at Ward and Kapolei Theaters Worth the Extra Cash?
Beer, wine and upgraded food with your movie sound great, but there are some drawbacks, too.
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Photos: James Charisma
Hawai‘i’s first “deluxe” movie theater, Regal Kapolei Commons 12, opened on the West Side in April to much fanfare. Promising comfy electric-reclining seats, new food options including burgers and pizza, and state-of-the-art picture and sound quality, this was pitched as the premier movie going experience in the Pacific.
Not to be outdone, Consolidated Theatres announced a new luxury theater of its own to open at Ka Makana Ali‘i, also in Kapolei. And, in the meantime, it introduced new changes at its flagship Consolidated Theatres Ward 16 location: an enhanced food and beverage menu (including alcohol), and similar plush reclining seats to be rolled out by the end of the year.
Although some of these new changes are still on their way, one thing is clear: high-end theaters are definitely the next trend for going to the movies in Hawai‘i. We visited both theaters to see how each measured up, category by category, beginning with the biggest question weighing on our hearts and minds: the food.
At Consolidated’s Ward 16, the upgraded menu includes new takes on regular movie food (new flavored toppings such as white cheddar or jalapeño cheese on popcorn, and a “banh mi” version of the usual hot dog with a cilantro-lemon aioli sauce, fresh jalapeños and pickled vegetables) as well as liliko‘i fried chicken and barbecue pulled pork bowls, chicken tenders, and personal pan-size cheese and pepperoni pizzas. There were fries of all kinds here, too, from plain with sea salt to “loaded” with chopped bacon, sour cream and fresh green onions, “kapakahi” with pulled pork, cheese, unagi sauce and pickles, and even “okonomiyaki” style with shredded imitation crab, cabbage, Kewpie mayo, togarashi seasoning and scallions.
The bowls are moderately priced at $8.50 (which isn’t bad considering a large soda is $6.50), but the value is meh. We ordered the liliko‘i chicken bowl, which came with a dozen small-to-mid-size heavily battered pieces of chicken that reminded us of the orange chicken from Panda Express, served on a single scoop of rice, and a “slaw” that wasn’t much more than loose iceberg lettuce. The okonomiyaki fries (also $8.50) are generously piled in a big tub fit for sharing, but the “okonomiyaki” part felt more like a salad of ingredients—mayo, teri sauce, imitation crab and more shredded iceberg lettuce—simply heaped together on top.
The new food at Ward isn’t terrible, but it’s far from great. If you’re starving at the theater and can’t survive with the usual popcorn or a hot dog, then sure, go for a bowl. Otherwise, you can probably get most of these items in bigger and tastier portions at the nearby Dave and Busters, Big City Diner and, yes, Panda Express.
At Regal’s Kapolei 12, the food selections are all over the map: hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, Bavarian pretzels, edamame, jalapeño poppers, mozzarella sticks and more. The theater went so far as to even merge items; an “off the hook combo” includes popcorn, Maui chips and blonde brownies mixed together and drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce in a big pile. Sweets included selections from Let Them Eat Cupcakes, malassada bites, coco mac cookies and more.
The snacks start at around $4, with the specialty hot dogs for $7 to $8, and burgers and sandwiches in the $9 to $12 range. It’s pricey, but each order comes with a half-pound of french fries (or onion rings or cross-cut waffle fries for an extra buck). We tried the bacon-chili-pineapple burger ($8.49), which was a decent size but a little dry and served in a big dinner roll. Fortunately, the eponymous chilies and pineapple were diced together and spread atop the beef as a thick and lively salsa. For sandwiches, we tried the Hawaiian ($11.99), which included shredded kālua pork, slaw and pickles and was served in a fresh baguette, which was good but equally dry. And for both the burgers and the sandwich, Regal’s decision to use fresh bread actually ended up as a detriment: unlike tiny processed rolls and buns, the fresh bread it uses is huge, leaving way more bread than filling.
Overall, the selections at Regal Kapolei are a little more substantial and you get bigger portions for your buck—provided you’re willing to wait for your food (see below).
Regal Kapolei Commons 12 is beautiful, shiny and new, but small. Once inside the theater, movie tickets are purchased from a box office counter on the immediate right-hand side, before guests are fed into the concession line for food. In our case (on a Sunday afternoon), this line was a gauntlet that twisted and snaked into six long rows that reached from the front counter to the main entrance. We’ve had shorter wait times at the DMV. Granted, our visit coincided with the weekend, when Mom and Dad are more likely to bring the whole family to go to the movies than, say, a quiet Wednesday matinee. But for most working adults, the weekend may be the only time they’ll be at the theaters. And if this is the case, they can expect a crowd.
But once you get your food, you’re good to go; it’s straight to the screen. Commons 12 is modern looking and clean, with some neat fishnet-inspired carpeting, teak shutters and pendant lights in the lobby that model a star constellation. Pretty neat stuff. And because the box office counter is beyond the front doors, it’s possible to just go inside the theater, look around, use the bathroom, and order snacks or a drink without necessarily seeing a film if you so choose and are hungry or curious.
Ward 16 is spacious, able to handle large crowds and relatively familiar for most residents of Honolulu. The tricky thing here is how the theater is rolling out its new “luxury” changes.
Rather than upgrade just a handful of specific individual theaters (or the entire complex), Ward 16 has rededicated its entire right wing to “The Premiere,” a 21-and-over section where beers and wine are available for purchase. The theater’s new reclining seats will be in this section as well as any upgraded screens, aside from its current Titan XC screens. Ward 16’s new food selections are still purchased at the main concessions counter, but to enjoy alcohol—or even to see certain films—it’ll now require a visit to The Premiere, which has its complications.
For one, tickets for films in the new section cost more than the regular section, whether you’re drinking alcohol or not. You have to present your ID to get into the section and are given a wristband; again, even if you’re not having wine or a beer. If movie theaters are hard to get through on packed nights full of people, imagine standing in four lines: one to get your ticket, one to get food, one to show your ID and then one to purchase drinks. Eek.
And even though the Motion Picture Association of America allows people to watch R-rated films at age 17, because some R-rated films at Ward 16 are only shown in The Premiere section, it prohibits anyone under 21 from seeing them. This affects those over 21 too: just as alcohol is only allowed at the films in The Premiere section, it is still banned throughout the rest of the theater at all the other movies. So if you’re the cool aunt who wants to have a glass of wine at Zootopia or the dad who wants to enjoy an IPA while sitting through The Jungle Book, you’re out of luck.
Ward 16 offers a selection of 10 different beers, many of which are from microbreweries, for between $8 and $9 per bottle, or you can get a glass of quality wine for $9 to $13. They’re stocked in a series of big coolers against the back wall in the Premiere section, available for purchase from a friendly staff member.
Commons 12 offers no alcoholic beverages—yet.